Ten Most Curious Books about Ian Fleming and James Bond

Words by Edward Biddulph

My ambition is to own every Bond-related book that exists, but I realise the task will be unending, as there is a constant flow of new books, and a deluge with the release of each new Bond film. There are books to suit every cultural standpoint, and books that examine the most arcane aspects of Bond lore. In this list, I reveal ten books – among them the weird, wacky and wonderful – that you may have missed.

The Bond Code: The Dark World of Ian Fleming and James Bond (2008), by Philip Gardiner

The Bond Code: The Dark World of Ian Fleming and James BondIf you thought the James Bond books were simple spy novels – thrilling, but undemanding fare – then according to Philip Gardiner, you’re just not reading them correctly. For hidden inside the Bond books are clues to Ian Fleming’s fascination with the occult and mysticism. The names Auric Goldfinger and Hugo Drax, for example, represent the art of alchemy, while Bond’s code number used in You Only Live Twice, 7777, has numerological significance. And as everyone knows, 007 is how Queen Elizabeth I’s spy and occultist John Dee signed his communications.

This is an interpretation of the Bond novels for the Da Vinci Code generation. The connections are at best tenuous, but the book is an entertaining read nonetheless, and to be taken with a very large pinch of salt.

Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass (2008), by Benjamin Pratt

Ian Fleming's Seven Deadlier Sins and 007's Moral CompassAttitudes of the religious to Bond have come a long way since the 1950s. In 1958, Paul Johnson, a devout Catholic, wrote that Fleming ‘satisfies the very worst instincts of his readers’, while in 1965, the Vatican decried the film of Dr No as ‘a mixture of violence, vulgarity, sadism and sex’, and subsequent films as deplorable. Today, the Bond books are used in Bible studies, such as this volume authored by Benjamin Pratt, to provide exemplars of good morals.

As with Philip Gardiner, Benjamin Pratt has found a hidden code in the Bond books. James Bond is not named after an American ornithologist, but taken from the ‘Letter of James’ in the New Testament, which begins, “James, a bond servant.” The Bond novels themselves are intended as morality tales to illustrate the perils of some of the seven deadly sins, and a few others. Casino Royale is a parable about moral cowardice, while Goldfinger, predictably, concerns avarice. Given that he commissioned a series of articles on the seven deadly sins, Ian Fleming might have been amused by Benjamin Pratt’s book. Overall, though, I’m not convinced that the Bond books have religious significance.

James Bond and Philosophy (2006), edited by James B South and Jacob M Held

South_and_HeldJust as the Bond novels, it would seem, provide moral guidance, they also offer a way of understanding philosophical issues and dilemmas. In James Bond and Philosophy, we establish that Bond is a Nietzschean, paradoxically defeating (evil) Nietzscheanism – political and moral nihilism – with (good) Nietzscheanism; that is, with the help of a hierarchical society and good living. Bond’s gadgets are, as Heidegger might see it, a natural extension of Bond himself. Plato’s archetypes – the tyrant, the guardian, the philosopher-king – can be found in the Bond books, and Yin-Yang cosmology allows us to better understand the Bond films.

The book is not an easy read – I’m afraid I struggled to get through the volume – but if you think there are hidden depths in the Bond novels and films, then this is the book for you.

The Signs of James Bond: Semiotic Explorations in the World of 007 (2013), by Daniel Ferreras Savoye

semioticMore rigorous analysis on the Bond phenomenon is provided by Daniel Savoye in his book, The Signs of James Bond, which examines both the books and the films to reveal their semiotic structure – the signs and meanings that underlie the narrative, characters, and expressions of Fleming’s world-view. Like Benjamin Pratt, Savoye looks to the Bible for the origin of Bond’s name, and naturally the code number 007 is imbued with hidden significance.

Whether or not you think Savoye’s analysis plausible, it once again demonstrates that the Bond ‘texts’ offer endless potential for interpretation and re-interpretation.

James Bond: Did He Really Live Twice? (1988), by John Bryan

James Bond: Did He Really Live Twice?As Anthony Burgess suggested in his introduction to the Coronet edition of the Bond novels, James Bond has become as significant a literary (and screen) character as Sherlock Holmes. Both are so well known that just the mention of a deerstalker and pipe or a dinner suit and vodka martini will elicit recognition the world over. John Bryan’s book takes the connections further. He sees Bond as the direct successor of Holmes.

When writing his novels, Fleming gave Bond traits that Conan Doyle gave to Holmes, and took aspects of the plots and events found in the detective stories. Thus, Bond shares Holmes’ mannerisms, his humour, and his attitude to work, exercise and women. Indeed, Bond and Holmes practically have the same face (as reconstructed from descriptions in the books). And just as Holmes has Moriarty, Bond has Blofeld.

Despite offering extensive quotations from both the Holmes and Bond books as evidence, John Bryan’s thesis is, I think, fanciful at best. While Fleming probably read Conan Doyle, his experiences and interests were too wide to confine his literary influence to one source.

Ian Fleming’s Secret War (2008), by Craig Cabell

CabellUntil Nicholas Rankin’s Ian Fleming’s Commandos (2011) was published, readers keen to learn about Ian Fleming’s wartime experiences could turn to two books by Craig Cabell. the first, Ian Fleming’s Secret War, dealt generally with Ian Fleming’s career in naval intelligence, while the second, The History of the 30 Assault Unit, focused on the commando unit set up by Ian Fleming. While both books have been comprehensively superseded by Rankin’s volume, they were at the time a welcome addition to the Fleming aficionado’s library, as relatively little was known about Fleming’s war.

Cabell’s first book contains much of interest, but there is also some blatant padding (readers get a guide to collecting first editions of Fleming’s Bond novels), and amid the many typos, there are a number of unsupported assertions. For example, Cabell suggests that Fleming was heavily involved in Operation Crossbow, in which top photographic interpreters and intelligence officers poured over millions of aerial photographs to uncover the secrets of Germany’s long-range ballistic missile programme. Relying largely on the events depicted in Fleming’s third Bond novel, Moonraker, Cabell concedes that the claim lacks evidence.

OPJB: The Last Secret of the Second World War (1996), by Christopher Creighton

OPJB: The Last Secret of the Second World WarFar wilder assertions were made by Christopher Creighton, whose book has largely been discredited. According to Creighton, Operation James Bond was an ultra-secret Allied mission to spirit Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary, out of Berlin at the end of the Second World War, and recover immense funds stolen by the Nazis. Creighton describes, implausibly, how Ian Fleming, far from being a ‘chocolate sailor’ kept away from the action, himself led the team of commandos (which included Creighton) in the raid.

In a shocking claim, the author reveals how Fleming stood with him as he (Creighton) cold-bloodedly killed a man brought into the team to double for Bormann. So is the book fact or fiction? Tellingly, the publisher writes in a preface that the account cannot be independently verified, and that readers must make up their own minds. I’ve made up mine.

James Bond’s Cuisine: 007’s Every Last Meal (2014), by Matt Sherman

ShermanMatt Sherman’s book is as comprehensive a guide to the food of James Bond as one is likely to get. The author has trawled through the novels, not only of Ian Fleming, but those of the continuation authors too, to describe every meal and food reference. Nor has he confined himself to the food consumed by Bond. References to food related to other characters are there as well.

And if you thought the films had largely excised food from James Bond’s adventures, then a flick through Matt Sherman’s book reveals otherwise. While Bond is rarely shown sitting down to enjoy a meal, food is referenced one way or another in all the films. The book is a one-stop reference for all the food of James Bond, and deserves a place on the Bond fan’s bookshelf.

The Best Bond Movie Ever, Or Why “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” Is far Better Than Its Reputation (2010), by Nathalie Gerlach

GerlachYou won’t hear any argument from me. I agree absolutely that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the best Bond film ever. And if there was any doubt, German academic Nathalie Gerlach explains in this booklet. Perhaps because of his inexperience as an actor and the big shoes he had to fill, George Lazenby exhibited an authenticity that “the other feller” had lacked. Diana Rigg’s Tracy was Bond’s equal, reflecting increasing gender equality, while director Peter Hunt created not just an action film, but “a remarkable piece of art”.

The booklet reads in a way that reflects its origins as a student paper, but it offers an interesting perspective, and, as a bonus, references German works on the Bond phenomenon, such as Mythos 007 (2007) by Andreas Raucher and others, with which Bond aficionados in English-speaking regions may not be so familiar.

The James Bond Movies of the 1980s (2013), by Thomas A Christie

The James Bond Movies of the 1980sThe Bond films released in the 1980s were a mixed bag. The decade was book-ended by films that returned Bond to his literary roots (For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill), saw a Bond actor bow out not so much with a bang, as a well-timed quip and a well-cooked quiche (A View To A Kill), and included a film with an identity crisis (Octopussy – what is it, a cold war thriller or amusing caper?).

All are among the most memorable – and well-loved – Bond films in the series. Author Thomas Christie explains why and explores how the series adapted to the changing political, economic, and social climate. A fascinating read.

Incidental Intelligence

Top 10 Books on Ian Fleming and James Bond: Part 1

Top 10 Books on Ian Fleming and James Bond: Part 2

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2 thoughts on “Ten Most Curious Books about Ian Fleming and James Bond

  1. A very fun list–I confess I hadn’t heard of the final two books before. I can recommend “The Signs of James Bond”–though Savoye’s structuralism is sometimes strained, his literary criticism is usually sound and he makes a good show of defending the novels.

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